The Pride of Mississippi Precision Dance Team, otherwise known as the Dixie Darlings, has gone through a few name changes since its formation in 1954. According to Chester Morgan’s ‘Treasured Past, Golden Future’, Dr. Raymond Mannoni organized a dance group in 1953 called the Southern Belles. It was at a game in Montgomery that a reporter called the group ‘Those darlings from Dixie’. This caused Mannoni to rename the team to the “Dixie Maidens”, but he quickly dropped it after the first week of practice. The dance team almost went by the Dixie Dancers, but Mannoni eventually went with the Dixie Darlings. According to a recent unsigned letter, however, this name is also set to be changed.
The letter said the leadership of The Pride of Mississippi and all of its component performing units, in consultation with The University of Southern Mississippi’s administrators and the Southern Miss Alumni Association’s Traditions Committee, are beginning the process of selecting a new name for the marching band’s Dixie Darlings, which was its name from 1954 to 2020.
On Aug. 13, University President Rodney Bennett, Ph.D, released a message about changing the names of the Dixie Darlings. Bennett said The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band is initiating a process to consider selecting a new name and opening music piece for the Dixie Darlings and The Pride’s initial proposal received support from the Southern Miss Alumni Association’s Traditions Committee.
“After considering many perspectives on this matter, I have informed the School of Music, the academic unit that houses the Pride, that a process to evaluate a potential name and music change must include a thorough due diligence period that engages all critical stakeholders,” said Bennett.
Bennett said critical stakeholders include current and former Dixie Darling members, broad representation from the Southern Miss Alumni Association, the USM Foundation, the USM Athletic foundation and members of the general student body.
Bennett explained that, to allow sufficient time for a robust process, a name and music change will not be approved for the upcoming academic year and performance season.
“I have asked the School of Music to develop a complete plan for a measured, thorough process, in ongoing consultation with the Southern Miss Alumni Association’s Traditions Committee,” Bennett said. “And to recommend next steps through the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Provost, the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for External Affairs.”
The Dixie Darlings have an important connection to Southern Miss. The dance group is referred to as the ‘Internationally-Famous Dixie Darlings’, performing during the New Year’s Day Parade in London and at a Green Bay Packers game for alumni Brett Farve’s birthday.
However, the term “Dixie” has gained a negative connotation, especially in recent years. A popular song titled ‘Dixie’ was widely used for blackface minstrelsy. The song later became the de facto national anthem of the Confederacy.
No one is sure where the term comes from, with the story changing depending on the person asked. In the book ‘On Dixie’ by Curtis Wilkie, Wilkie said the closest answer he could find was that the term comes from the French $10 note, called the “Dix”. When France was in control of the South, travelers started to call the bills “Dixies”, and the South became known as “the Land of the Dix”. According to The History Channel’s website, however, many historians now dismiss the banknote explanation as a myth.
The most common explanation of the term “Dixie” comes from the Mason-Dixon Line, which divided the southern slave states and the northern free states. It is thought the term Dixie and Dixieland came as slang to describe the southern states.
On the public Dixie Darlings Alumnae Facebook page, a majority of the members did not support the name change. Judy Kaye Maupin Stoffle, a Dixie Darling from 1964 to 1968, said that despite the many changes the Darlings have gone through over the years, the one thing that always remained the same was the name “Dixie Darlings”. She, like other alumni, believes changing the name would be getting rid of a tradition the dance team has.
Not all of the former members are against the change, though. Betsy Pea, a Dixie Darling from the 90s, posted on the Alumnae page that she understood why the name should change.
“I felt weird about the song ‘Are You From Dixie’ every time we strutted on the field,” said Pea. “I love the team and the camaraderie amongst the active team and generations of alums. I don’t think that will change.”
Elise Geissler-Huesgen became a Dixie Darling when she came to Southern Miss from Germany. Geissler-Huesgen said the Dixie Darlings welcomed her even though she did not know the language, culture or habits of the region. She said the Dixie Darlings made her fall in love with Southern culture.
Despite this love, Geissler-Huesgen also said people need to think critically about every step they take and choose the right path, even if it is the harder one or does not seem like a big deal at the time.
“Changing the name of the DDs after 66 years is painful for so many, yet the ability to make such changes is what kept the U.S. on the right side of history so many times,” said Geissler-Huesgen. “It is these small and painful decisions that ultimately decide what side of history you are on and I am proud to be an alumna of a team that had the courage to take such a step.”
To stay updated on any changes to this story, please visit the official Dixie Darling official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USM-Dixie-Darlings-119531211395905.